TORONTO - A plan to close jails in Walkerton and Owen Sound is short-sighted and means prisoners will spend more time out in the community as they are driven hundreds of kilometres a day for court appearances, critics said Tuesday.

The governing Liberals have jumped all over a Tory plan to put prisoners to work because that means criminals would be out in society, said Progressive Conservative Bill Murdoch.

But closing those jails means prisoners will have to be transported to and from the "super jail" in Penetanguishene for court appearances -- a five- to seven-hour trip during treacherous winter conditions, Murdoch said.

"They're going to close our two jails, transport prisoners all the way to Penetanguishene, and if you know what our weather is like in the winter, they're not going to spend a lot of time in Penetanguishene," said Murdoch, who represents the riding of Grey-Bruce-Owen Sound. "They're going to be in hotels all along this way waiting to get out of the snow drifts. How does that work when they don't want them out working, yet it's OK to transport them all the way out here."

A spokesman for Community Safety Minister Jim Bradley refuted Murdoch's criticism, saying there will be no danger to the public because of the transfers.

"The idea that inmates will be put up in hotels is false and ridiculous," said spokesman Joe Kim. "Ontario's correctional service does not put inmates up in hotels. The drive from Owen Sound and Walkerton to Penetanguishene normally takes about two hours."

The Walkerton and Owen Sound jails are scheduled to close by the end of this year, while the jail in Sarnia will be closed in 2013 and inmates and staff will be transferred to a "super jail" in Windsor.

A 200-inmate wing of the Toronto West Detention Centre will also close in 2012, with inmates and staff transferred to a new Toronto South facility.

Bradley met with the jail guards and mayors Tuesday, but said the closures were needed to modernize the prison system and help pay off the deficit.

Kim said the jails in Walkerton and Owen Sound cost Ontario taxpayers close to $300 per inmate per day, a tab that can be cut by half when the convicts are transferred to the Central North Correctional Centre in Penetanguishene, where it will cost $124 per day to house an inmate.

The government has said that up to $8 million per year will be saved by closing the Walkerton and Owen Sound jails, but that number hasn't been costed out, said Eddy Almeida of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.

His group would like to see the government's figures to asses whether they really add up, and is also asking the Liberals to stop the closures and hold a public review before making the final decision.

"The supposed savings don't include increased travel times that police will incur by making the five- to seven-hour trip transferring inmates to and from Penetanguishene -- longer in bad winter driving conditions," Almeida said. "These are additional costs that municipalities will have to pick up."

Owen Sound Mayor Deborah Haswell said her city will lose a $3-million payroll when the jail closes.

"That's what we're talking about -- save the province a few million dollars from the bottom line as they're heading into an election and yet pull the rug from underneath small communities," Haswell said. "The western region facilities are among the lowest-cost, most efficiently run institutions in the province's inventory, and yet simply because of geography, I believe, are slated to be closed."